Justice and the Meritocratic State: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Justice and the Meritocratic State

1st Edition

By Thomas Mulligan


226 pages | 2 B/W Illus.

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Like American politics, the academic debate over justice is polarized, with almost all theories of justice falling within one of two traditions: egalitarianism and libertarianism. This book provides an alternative to the partisan standoff by focusing not on equality or liberty, but on the idea that we should give people the things that they deserve. 

Mulligan sets forth a theory of economic justice—meritocracy—which rests upon a desert principle and is distinctive from existing work in two ways. First, meritocracy is grounded in empirical research on how human beings think, intuitively, about justice. Research in social psychology and experimental economics reveals that people simply don’t think that social goods should be distributed equally, nor do they dismiss the idea of social justice. Across ideological and cultural lines, people believe that rewards should reflect merit. Second, the book discusses hot-button political issues and makes concrete policy recommendations. These issues include anti-meritocratic bias against women and racial minorities and the United States’ widening economic inequality. Justice and the Meritocratic State offers a new theory of justice and provides solutions to our most vexing social and economic problems. It will be of keen interest to philosophers, economists, and political theorists.


"The book has many virtues. First and foremost, it makes a welcome contribution to a still underdeveloped field of research . . . Second, it is refreshing to see a book that does not shy away from attempting to bridge the gap between theory and political practice, with all the dangers and contingencies that this endeavor entails. Third, whether or not one is ultimately convinced by its arguments, the book is written in a clear and engaging style. Mulligan's position on the many issues he addresses is never in doubt . . . In sum, this is a stimulating book that presents the debate surrounding justice as desert in a new light. Everyone who is interested in meritocracy should read it. I am looking forward to Mulligan's future work and the directions in which he will further develop his account presented here."Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Table of Contents

Part I: On Justice 1. Why Meritocracy? 2. The Metatheory of Justice 3. What We Believe about Justice 4. The Concept of Desert Part II: A Meritocratic Theory of Economic Justice 5. On the Distribution of Income 6. On the Distribution of Jobs 7. Defending Desert from the Left and the Right Part III: Meritocratic Public Policy 8. Public Spending and the Establishment of Equal Opportunity 9. Meritocratic Tax Theory 10. Justice in Our Lifetimes

About the Author

Thomas Mulligan is a Junior Faculty Fellow at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics. Before coming to academia, he served in the U.S. Navy and the Central Intelligence Agency.

About the Series

Political Philosophy for the Real World

Political philosophers and applied ethicists often think in terms of ideal theory. In short, they ask what institutions, policies, or practices would work best if people had perfect motivations. While such work might help us imagine what utopia would look like, it offers little practical guidance.

Political Philosophy for the Real World offers a home for original scholarly research that confronts the very problems ideal theory imagines away, such as corruption, incentives, incompetence, rent-seeking, strategic free-riding and non-compliance, and political manipulation. The monographs and edited collections in this series integrate normative philosophy with the best empirical work in political science, economics, sociology, and psychology. By taking the incentives our institutions create and the motivations of individuals seriously, these books advocate for workable policy solutions that incorporate insights from the social sciences.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PHILOSOPHY / Political
POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory