Decentralized Responses to Good Fortune and Bad Luck

Richard A. Epstein


Most forms of egalitarian theory impose on government (and through it other people) to redress the inequalities of fortune that result from bad luck. This Article takes issue with the various forms of this large claim, and argues that decentralized forms of assistance are likely in the long run to do better by the very standards by which egalitarians justify their own program. The alleviation of poverty depends in the first instance on increases in wealth that can only come through private innovation and technological advances. These have in fact produced major improvements in overall well-being, with disproportionate advances for the poor. But if one starts with Dworkin’s unsustainable distinction between option and brute luck, or Nussbaum and Sen’s capability theory, then no egalitarian theory can deliver on the promise to level differences in wealth without seriously compromising overall levels of social welfare. By expanding the scope of government regulation, these proposals open the door to selfish political forces whose political clout ensures that ill-conceived programs, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, frustrate the very goals they hope to achieve. State intervention to redistribute resources should be understood as a last resort for dealing with problems of ill fortune.

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