Frankfurt on economic equality

Harry Gordon Frankfurt (born May 29, 1929) is an American philosopher. He is professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University, where he taught from 1990 until 2002, and previously taught at Yale University and Rockefeller University.

‘Economic equality is not, as such, of particular moral importance. With respect to the distribution of economic assets, what is important from the point of view of morality is not that everyone should have the same but that each should have enough. If everyone had enough, it would be of no moral consequence whether some had more than others.’

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One response to “Frankfurt on economic equality

  1. Frankfurt proposes his ‘doctrine of sufficiency’ as an alternative to the doctrine of economic egalitarianism.

    He argues that economic egalitarianism is actually harmful on two grounds. Firstly, measuring their financial circumstances against others distracts people from focusing on their own real needs. Secondly, ‘the argument linking economic equality to the maximisation of aggregate utility is unsound.’ Frankfurt goes further and argues that ‘in virtue of the incidence of utility thresholds, there are conditions under which an egalitarian distribution actually minimises aggregate utility.’ He provides examples to show that under conditions of scarcity, an egalitarian distribution may be morally unacceptable.

    In this way, Frankfurt argues that ‘it is a mistake to maintain that where some people have less than enough, no one should have more than enough.’ He argues that this conclusion leads to a logical separation between egalitarianism and sufficiency.

    He defines ‘enough’ or sufficient in terms of meeting a standard rather than reaching a limit. For him, this standard is when a person is content with what he has: ‘A contented person regards having more money as inessential to his being satisfied with his life.’ This is not to say that the person would not prefer more money – it means that he lacks an active interest in seeking it.

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