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Global Distributive Justice

  1. Kok-Chor Tan

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee047

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Tan, K.-C. 2013. Global Distributive Justice. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


On one common interpretation, the ideal of global distributive justice refers to something very specific: that, as a matter of global justice, distributive inequalities globally (between states or among persons across states) ought to be of concern. For convenience, I will sometimes refer to this ideal as global egalitarianism (see Justice; Equality). The problem of global distributive justice is thus a conceptually distinct one from the problem of global poverty (see Global Poverty; World Hunger). The duty to counter poverty is a duty with a threshold – it is a duty that ceases when the minimum subsistence level that defines poverty is crossed. A distributive duty, on the other hand, given its objective of regulating inequalities, is continuous and remains in play so long as inequalities are present among the relevant parties. A distributive principle, of course, does not necessarily demand that there be no inequalities in outcome at all – indeed this kind of strict egalitarian principle is rather implausible. More defensible principles of distributive equality do not seek absolute equality of outcome, but aim to regulate or limit the kinds and degrees of inequalities that are admissible. They are, nonetheless, egalitarian, even though they take the paradoxical form of “permitting” inequalities because they hold that an equal distribution is the default and that the burden of proof falls on any departure from this benchmark of equality. Thus John Rawls' difference principle (1971, 2001) – which, roughly, states that inequalities between parties are acceptable only under a social arrangement that is most beneficial for the worst off – is a quintessential example of an egalitarian distributive principle (see Rawls, John; Difference Principle).


  • legal and political;
  • politics