Economic justice describes views within moral philosophy regarding how economic effort and resources ought to be distributed.
Models of economic justice include:
- Laissez-faire capitalism: Economic outcomes are just when individuals are free to make economic decisions without interference from government, or violation of property rights;
- Egalitarianism: Economic outcomes are just when all individuals do similar amounts of work, and receive similar pay;
- Marxism: Economic outcomes are just when individuals produce according to their abilities and consume according to their needs;
Conservatives generally subscribe to the laissez-faire model of economic justice. Generally, conservatives believe that it is "fair" to you get what you work for—the harder you work, the more you earn. To a conservative, it is not unjust if one person earns more than another, so long as both are free to reap the consequences of their own economic decisions without external interference. Thus, economic inequalities are not seen as social ills to be overcome.
For example, a person in Africa is born with nothing, works hard, saves, and starts a business. However, the business never earns more than the equivalent of $10 a day. A person in America is born into wealth, and his parents create a trust for him so that he is able to live a life of ease. This situation is just to a conservative, because there is no external government interference, and no violation of property rights. However, if the government excessively taxes the working African, or someone steals from the wealthy American, this is considered unjust, because it violates their individual economic autonomy—their right to keep what they earn.
Liberals, on the other hand, generally subscribe to either egalitarian or marxist models of economic justice. Generally, they consider it unjust for people to have grossly unequal incomes. Thus, it is unjust for the African above to work hard and have little, and for the wealthy American to have a lot. Consequently, liberals advocate redistribution of resources and property, in which the rich are taxed to support the poor. Conservatives consider redistribution of resources and property as unjust, because it interferes with an individual's economic autonomy (a key element of economic justice).