Inequality against Freedom: Economic Power, Markets, and the Workplace (INAF)

Economists, political scientists and philosophers have long cautioned that inequalities in income and wealth may adversely affect politics, by giving moneyed interests power over elected officials or by attenuating their connections to the common good.

These arguments from democracy or fairness tend to operate under the assumption that inequality does not undermine individual freedom. Indeed, some economists and philosophers maintain that inequality normally enhances individual freedom: by expanding the option sets of affected agents, inequalities that reflect mutually beneficial transactions between consenting adults seem freedom-enhancing.

The NWO-funded VIDI project Inequality against Freedom (INAF), recently obtained by Nicholas Vrousalis, questions these assumptions. It develops and defends the idea that some mutually consensual and beneficial inequalities in income and wealth may be freedom-reducing.

Suppose your boss offers you a raise in return for cleaning her boots, or that a millionaire offers you thousands of euros in return for a sexual favour, or that a fellow train commuter offers you the only available seat for a thousand euros. It is possible that such mutually beneficial proposals are bad, bad just when they make it costly for you to do the right thing for the right reasons. The boss, millionaire, and commuter do not help you respond to the right reasons; instead, they deliberately steer you towards giving a best response to their use of power over you. More precisely, such offers, if accepted, dominate you.

The INAF project studies these possibilities, along three axes: (1) the political philosophy of freedom, in general, (2) the political philosophy of markets, and (3) the political philosophy of the workplace. The project, worth €800,000, will fund a number of research positions at the union of these three areas.

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