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Publish at November 09 2022 Updated November 09 2022

Bounding wealth to make it fair [Thesis].

Philosophy of maximum richness

Silhouette of Scrooge satisfied with owning the world against a background of planet Earth and a diagram of the distribution of wealth in a champagne glass

"I want the money just to be rich. "

John Lennon - Singer (1940 - 1980)

In recent years, economic inequality has worsened especially with respect to excessive wealth. Thusin 2010, 3881 people owned the equivalent net wealth of the poorest half of humanity, in 2016 they numbered 8.

This outrageous accumulation of wealth is legitimized behind the merit, success and achievement of the illusory "self-made man". In the face of this unjustifiable inequality, we prefer to lull our torments with the idea that the world is fair.The belief in a fair world corresponds to a positive distortion of reality in which subjects believe that a person"gets what he or she deserves, and deserves what he or she gets." This belief constitutes a cognitive bias that is not always shared by the individual. This belief constitutes a cognitive bias with disastrous consequences, in this case legitimizing economic inequalities.

In order not to sink into the fatalism of another belief, predestination, we can rethink our world to propose a just one. Faced with an accumulation of wealth and an equally important inequality between individuals,we must reconsider the very redistribution of wealth and if necessary limit it.

but how? Why? And above all, is it fair? This is what philosopher Christian Jobin proposes to discover in his thesis " The just bounds of wealth: normative foundations and implementation of maximum wealth."

Why Read This Thesis - Having the Means

In a game of merger and acquisition between relevant argumentation and solid sources, Christian Jobin develops the foundations of a regulation of maximum wealth on two axes: maximum income through income taxation and maximum capital through inheritance taxation.

The author supports the correctness of these measures by showing their alignment with the principles of three schools of thought:

  • libertarianism,
  • sufficiency and
  • prioritarianism.

Thus, in the course of this philosophical journey, Christian Jobin invites us through these different theories to think differently outside of the idealized prism of our beliefs and the ideological messages of our daily lives.

This dissertation work highlighting the question of the distribution of wealth is not new. Nowadays, the wealth of some is such that it becomes almost impossible for the poorest to conceive it. In a world where some presidents fork their tongues to replace the term "poor" with "weak" in order to minimize their political responsibilities, it becomes paramount to envision more just possible futures. What the author offers us by way of return on investment from our reading is priceless: that other possible.

A thesis sewn with gold?

"In Letters to Lucilius, Seneca writes: "What then are [...] the right bounds of  wealth? First, what is necessary; then what is sufficient". This formula alone sums up the objective that I am pursuing in this thesis, which is to demonstrate that there are "just  limits" to the wealth that an individual can legitimately possess.

In fact, I argue that these limits must be set first by what is "necessary", that is, by what I call "basic wealth", and then by "what is sufficient", that is, by what I call "maximum wealth". In this regard, it is worth noting that wealth, in a modern economy, takes two main forms: income and capital. Income is a "flow", i.e. "the quantity of wealth produced and distributed during a given period of time", while capital is a "stock", i.e. "the total quantity of wealth possessed at a given point in time".

Therefore, I argue that a "basic wealth" must be translated concretely into two complementary measures, i.e. a "basic income" and a "basic capital", and that a "maximum wealth" must also be translated into two complementary measures, i.e. a "maximum income" and a "maximum capital".

In a way, a basic wealth can thus be considered as a  "floor", i.e. a minimum amount of income and capital that any individual must  receive and possess and a maximum wealth, as a "ceiling", i.e. a  maximum amount of income and capital that any individual can legitimately receive and  accumulate. Regarding this "floor" that is basic wealth, we know that such a measure can take the form of a universal allowance (basic income) that Philippe Van Parijs defines as "an income paid by a political community to all its members on an individual basis, without any control of resources or requirement in terms of work.

However, the universal allowance only concerns one of the two forms of wealth, i.e. income, and does not take into account the other form of wealth, namely capital. This is why other researchers advocate another complementary measure called "basic capital". The main differences between these two measures lie in the amounts that are paid out and when they are paid out. It is generally thought that a basic income could take the form of a modest income paid on a periodic basis, for example, on a monthly basis, and that a basic capital could take the form of a larger capital that would be paid only once in a lifetime, for example, when an individual reaches the age of majority.

However, the important point is that these two measures are not incompatible. One can indeed imagine a hybrid system that includes both a basic income and a basic capital. Now, such a hybrid system is precisely what I call "basic wealth."

Make a Fortune?

Christian Jobin offers us an understanding of many concepts and currents of thought related to economic inequalities and resource distribution. Developing in a first stepincome, capital, and wealth, the author unfolds in a second step his thinking and reasoning by arguing his points with sourced statistical data and illustration worth a thousand words.

With the eloquence of reality and logical demonstrations, we address and grasp the nuances relative to the notions of inheritance and the right of the deceased, but also betweenthe principles of ratio and wealth gaps while delving into the inconsistencies and inefficiencies of theories like trickle-down.

In his exploration, Christian Jobin introduces usto the perverse effects associated with greed. By articulating different results of experimental psychology, he confirms that greed tends to make individuals more inclined to adopt immoral and socially damaging behavior. It appears that upper-class individuals have a greater propensity to break the law, make immoral decisions, take valuable property from others, lie in a negotiation, cheat to increase their chances of winning prizes, and engage in immoral behavior at work.To quote the author: just as appetite comes with eating, greed frequently comes with excessive wealth.

So we find that on the whole, the wealthy have less compassion and generosity toward the poorest, and more often consider the ends to justify the means. Gradually, as we read, we understand the perverse and harmful effects of greed on the relationship to money and the market but also on the human level and life in common.

This situation from a virtue-ethics perspective might lead one to believe that human behavior is a consequence of stable character traits specific to the individual. However, since these changes in behavior can be seen in any individual depending on the situation in which he or she finds himself or herself, the author posits his or her conclusions by taking a situationist stance postulating that good or bad behavior is explained primarily by the "situation" in which an individual finds himself or herself and less by his or her character traits

As some studies seem to show, being excessively wealthy can  be considered a "situation" that does not promote moral behavior and does not allow for the development of certain virtues. This advantage in resources of an individual increases the independence of the latter towards others which can justify greed by the fact that when a person does not need others, others would not need him. Iit then becomes logical for the wealth hoarder who has become independent of society and others to think that he owes nothing to others. This can be seen in the world with the very rich seeking to emancipate themselves from democratically adopted rules by means of tax evasion (and not tax optimization).

Using this observation, Christian Jobin recognizes the impossibility of implementing a confiscatory tax for these very large fortunes. However, he proposes to change perspective and think that if there is maximum wealth, there is no more tax evasion.

Earning a living?

In a just world, we could, simply by wanting to, earn our lives. This expression of "earning our lives" exists almost word for word in many languages (Chinese, French, English, Arabic...). Why do we have to earn our living and, more importantly, can we really earn our living?

In a world where stepping into the job market is like diving into an ocean full of sharks and where earning a living is like playing Russian roulette; it is becoming more and more difficult for everyone to get their piece of the pie. Isn't this just another fable our brains tell us to have an illusion of control?

It is obscene to try to substitute the term "poor" with "weak." Weakness refers to a lack of physical strength or vigor while poverty refers to a lack of money. It is obvious that in winner-take-all markets, some people receive more than just the fruits of their labor by greedily grabbing the whole pie from empty bellies.

Christian Jobin proves to us through leverage that the distribution of wealth depends on ideologies and that it is possible for everyone to earn a living by limiting wealth with a maximum and a minimum. Economic inequalities, capital and an individual's salary are not natural facts intrinsic to the biology of people, but are indeed political choices.

In opposition to the controversial theory of Social Darwinism justifying inequalities, wars and exterminations, the anarchist thinker Kropotkin, proposes mutual aid as an essential factor of evolution necessary for the survival of human societies. So, if wealth tends to make one asocial because of the feeling of independence from the rest of society, it constitutes a "regressive" factor in the evolutionary process of the human species by annihilating the essential of what makes us human: mutual aid.

What about you? Going for a more just world?

Good reading

This work was defended on February 2, 2018, at Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne  in co-supervision with the University of Montreal , within the framework of the École doctorale Philosophie (Paris) : ED 280, in partnership with Centre de philosophie contemporaine de la Sorbonne (Paris) (research team) and Centre de philosophie contemporaine de la Sorbonne (Paris) (laboratory)  (Montreal - Canada / Paris - France)

Sources

Christian Jobin. The just bounds of wealth: normative foundations and implementation of maximum wealth. Philosophy. Université Panthéon-Sorbonne - Paris I; Université de Montréal, 2018. French. ⟨NNT: 2018PA01H207⟩. ⟨tel-02001174⟩

Thesis: The Just Boundaries of Wealth: Normative Foundations and the Implementation of Maximum Wealth

To further explore the topic with other publications by the author:

Jobin, Christian (2019). The Capital Tax and Economic Inequality, Public Ethics, 21(2).

 Jobin, Christian (2016). Work in the era of "winner-take-all markets". Politics and Societies, 35(2-3), 147-168. doi: 10.7202/1037013ar

Jobin, Christian (2014). Property rights in the United States and the Dictionary of Political Economy. In Josiane Boulad-Ayoub (ed.), L'homme est né libre. Raison, politique, droit. Mélanges en hommage à Paule-Monique Vernes (pp. 383-399). Quebec and Aix-en-Provence: Presses de l'Université Laval and Presses universitaires de Rennes.


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