There is No Justice in Equality Among Slaves: Rescuing Egalitarianism from the Tamed Housewife (pdf)

Abstract: A powerful critique of a wide range of popular principles of egalitarian distributive justice is that they treat those with adaptive preferences unfairly. Consider Amartya Sen's ``tamed housewife.'' Through her upbringing in, say, an insular community or conservative family, the tamed housewife has come to value her life as a homemaker. Because her preferences are relatively cheap, she requires fewer resources than those in society with more expensive tastes to achieve equal (opportunity for) welfare. Thus, welfare and choice-sensitive egalitarians will find that justice requires that she have fewer resources. But precisely because her cheap preferences were formed in the context of coercion, indoctrination, truncated opportunities or the like, her smaller distributive share seems intuitively unfair. The critique is compelling and remains unresolved. Rescuing egalitarian justice from the tamed housewife, I argue, requires a simple and intuitive modification. If the problem is that we cannot determine the justice of a distribution when individuals have non-autonomous personalities, then distributive justice simply has a prerequisite: equality is only possible against a background of autonomous personalities. Advancing egalitarian distributive justice, then, requires first promoting personal autonomy.