The role of desert in distributive justice
The idea of desert is central to the way in which we evaluate the distribution of rewards to others. This thesis looks to outline the core idea of desert and then defend it against the charge that it is inherently inegalitarian. Part I begins with an analysis of the concept of desert in which it is argued that, while otherwise indeterminate, it requires that the claimant must (a) express value to the world, and (b) in at least some minimal sense control the expression of that value. It is shown that the control condition, which permits us to say that the value displayed actually belongs to the claimant, is undermined by the influence of good and ill luck. Requital is contingent on whether one's initial endowments and the subsequent episodes of chance happen to favour the realisation of what is valued by others. The standard response by liberal egalitarians to this problem has been to maintain the contributory, or output-based, model of desert, while looking to offset the effect of uneven endowments. In Part II it is proposed that a compensatory model of desert is superior because it is insensitive to the amount of value people produce, whilst remaining sensitive to their personal ends. On this reading, the basis of desert is twofold: Firstly, the denial of something that a person would prefer to have done, rather than what she has actually been able to do. Secondly, that the person's denial was brought about as a result of her choices and actions designed to contribute value to the world. But while effort towards contributing value is a minimum pre-condition of desert, it is not a determinant of the amount and form of requital that is deserved. Rather that is a function of the personal ends that the person foregoes. This conception of desert, it is claimed, remains compatible with the intuitive core of the concept and with the pursuit of socially optimal outcomes.